For the last two decades, since the end of the United Nations (UN) mission to Somalia in 1993, most members of the international community have largely ignored Somalia. In recent months, however, interest in cooperating with the Somali Government has returned and several countries have generated close relationships with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.Much of this renewed interest is in reaction to the ‘political roadmap’ Somali politicians are establishing to guide Somalia into a new era of security and political stability. However, the argument could be made that the work towards political and social development that is being done in Somalia during this earlystage of reconstruction is ill-advised or ineffective.
The situation on the ground in Somalia has not changed very much from that of several years ago, yet the international community is suddenly showing great optimism about possibilities of peace and stability in Somalia. This paper aims to investigate what exactly caused the sudden change in policy that has resulted in the surge in international attention. In doing so, it pays particular attention to the security situation in southern Somalia and the political progress that has been made by the TFG.
Reasons behind the sudden U-turn
The initial event that sparked the return of international attention to the south of Somalia seems to have been the food crisis in 2011,(2)specifically, the initial declaration by Al Shabaabthat they would allow humanitarian agencies to deliver food aid to regions under their control.(3) This prompted an immediate reaction from UN agencies which quickly mounted a campaign to gather funds and deliver food to the affected regions in Somalia. The problem, however, was that the declaration by Al Shabaab was misinterpreted. Soon after the initial declaration, they published a list of humanitarian organisations that would not be allowed to operate within territories under their control and, as was to be expected, this list included all UN branches in Somalia.(4) As a result most of the food aid was delivered to Mogadishu and refugee camps in Kenya, while the epicentre of the food crisis was located in Somalia’s Al Shabaab controlled regions. Eventually food aid, from sources other than the UN, improved the food security in the region and the global response to the crisis was regarded as having been successful.
The food crisis brought political evolutions in southern Somalia to the attention of the world, which had previously been primarily preoccupied with the problem of piracy, originating mostly in the Puntland region of north-easternSomalia. Another major breakthrough during this period of renewed attention was the temporary withdrawal of Shabaab forces from Mogadishu.(5) The Government, up to that point, had only ruled over roughly half the capital city and the withdrawal allowed Government forces and African Union peacekeepers to grab more territory. However, while certain critical parts of the city, such as the economically and socially important Bakara Market, are still in the hands of the Government, Shabaab forces have once again infiltrated the city and continue to fight Government forces there.
Yet another event that contributed to the global attention to developments in southern Somalia was the Kenyan invasion of Somalia’s western border as a reaction to the kidnapping of aid workers and civiliansfrom Kenya by Somali pirates in October 2011.(6)Among the captives was a French woman that died shortly after being abducted.(7) The Kenyan military offensive, after the initial diplomatic ambiguity between Kenya and the Somali Government, spread beliefs that Al Shabaab was being defeated by these forces and peace would soon return to all of Somalia. In reality the offensive has ground to a halt and barely moved after the first few weeks. Not a single decisive battle has occurred between Kenyan forces and Al Shabaab.
A perceived successful response to the 2011 food crisis, temporary withdrawal of Al Shabaab forces from Mogadishu, and the Kenyan offensive against Al Shabaab have all focused global attention on Somalia and have created a certain sense of optimism regarding Somalia’s future. Policy is being formed as if Somalia has already removed Al Shabaab from the regions they control and the reconstruction of the country can begin. In reality though only several main Somali cities have been liberated from Al Shabaab and the country is far from reaching a point where democracy and development can become sustainable.The reasons forthe way in which several countries and organisations are playing along with the unrealistic view of a return to peace and stability in Somalia are unclear. It almost seems as if a belief in the arrival of better times is seen as a way to force an improvement in the situation in Somalia. It is true that Somalia has undergone some change, especially on some very significant local levels. However, the prevailing situation of Somalia being a failed state suffering from a raging civil war in which a radical terrorist group plays a prominent part, has, in fact, not been overturned.
The political roadmap
Perhaps the most notable progress made within Somalia has been that of the TFG and the establishment of what is called the ‘political roadmap.’(8)The TFG has been troubled by persistent in-fighting. Despite this, however, the Government that was formed after the ‘Kampala Accord,’(9) aimed at defusing tensions between President Sharif and the speaker of Parliament, seem to be working very pragmatically towards an end to the TFG’s mandate in August 2012, when new governance structures are set to be put inplace.(10) The political roadmap has set numerous guidelinesfor steering Somalia towards more permanent political institutions and greater national security and stability.(11)The roadmap includes measure for drafting a constitution, achieving peace and stability, countering piracy and terrorism, as well as defining the procedures by which the next Parliament and Government will be selected.(12)
The handover of power through the organisation of popular elections, which had initially been a requirement in the TFG’s mandate, is looking very unrealistic right now due to the security situation in Somalia. UN personnel have already hinted at less democratic, but safer, procedures to select a new Parliament and Government. The real value of the political progress in Somalia will thus only be visible after the August 2012 deadline for a transfer of power. It is at that point that it will be clear whether the Somali political system has gained the necessary maturity to provide effective governance.
Turkish and British envoys
Despite persistent threats to stability and security and Somalia’s uncertain political future, several countries have reinitiated diplomatic contacts with Somalia. One of the pioneering countries in this field has been Turkey, which so far is the only one of these countries to have reopened an embassy in Mogadishu.(13) While the embassy is well situated in between African Union and Government military bases, it is a very bold move to establish an operational embassy in Mogadishu. The Turkish involvement in Somalia started off through humanitarian assistance projects in the city of Mogadishu but quickly grew to a more substantial political cooperation. Turkey has also started the process of awarding scholarships for Somali students to study in Turkey.(14)Turkish Airlines has also started offering direct flights between Turkey and Mogadishu.(15)
Perhaps one of the most visible states to be involved in the political cooperation with the TFG of Somalia is the United Kingdom (UK). Britain has appointed an ambassadorto Somalia but has decided to base him in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi instead of Mogadishu for obvious security concerns.(16) The British are much less visible on the ground in Mogadishu than the Turkish are, but the UK has pushed the Somali case up on the agenda for the rest of the world. The February 2012 London conference(17) on Somalia provided a groundbreaking opportunity for cooperation between Somalia and the rest of the world in establishing a stable democratic state in the nation.
The value of therenewed global attention being paid to the Somali case, as well as theinternational political support and development aid to Somalia, cannot be disputed.However,what is of concern regarding the resurgence of international attention in Somalia is the lack of a substantial reason for a return to the country, especially after two decades of completely ignoring the conflict in Somalia. The actual worry is that Governments may be acting on unsubstantiated information, or with an agenda that is not completely transparent. The immediate future of Somalia is still riddled with challenges, the same challenges, in fact, that existed five years ago. The decades of ignorance and the current seemingly uninformed way in which certain nations have now suddenly decided to spend more resources on developing Somalia could prove to be a problem to the nation, rather than a solution. The situation may worsen, rather than improve, if the international community sticks to talk instead of action, or worse, abandons the Somali cause once again.
(1) Contact Sim Tack through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Africa Watch Unit (
(2) ‘Somalia food crisis reaching “unimaginable proportions”’, BBC, 6 June 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(3) ‘Somali rebels lift ban on food aid after drought’, Reuters, 7 July 2011, http://af.reuters.com.
(4) ‘Al Shabab reasserts foreign aid ban’, Al Jazeera, 22 July 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com.
(5)‘Al-Shabaab rebels withdraw from Somali capital’, Al Jazeera, 6 August 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com.
(6) Pflanz, M., ‘French woman held hostage in Somalia dies’, The Telegraph, 19 October 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk.
(8) ‘Briefing: Somalia’s political roadmap’, IRIN, 22 February 2012, http://www.irinnews.org.
(9) ‘Agreement confirms extension of TFG, new PM and new Cabinet selections ’, Somalia Report, 6 September 2011, http://www.somaliareport.com.
(10) ‘Somali PM: transition must end in August 2012’, SONNA, 29 February 2012, http://sonnanews.net.
(13) ‘Turkey opens embassy in Somali capital’, World Bulletin’, 2 November 2011, http://www.worldbulletin.net.
(14) Abtidoon, A., ‘Turkey donates hundreds of scholarships’, SomaliaRe port, 28 September 2011, http://www.somaliareport.com.
(15) Omar, F. and Taxta, I., ‘Turkish Airlines starts regular flights to Somalia’, Reuters, 6 March 2012, http://www.reuters.com.
(16) Smith, D., ‘UK appoints first ambassador to Somalia in 21 years’, The Guardian, 2 February 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk.
(17) Tran, M., ‘Somalia conference is a turning point, says Cameron’, The Guardian, 23 February 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk.